September 20, 2020

Cookbook highlights the lowly breakfast Forgotten meal gets just deserts in ‘Cafe’

MOLLIE KATZEN’S SUNLIGHT CAFE, by Mollie Katzen, Hyperion, $29.95.

Mollie Katzen is out to change the way you eat. Again. You’re probably familiar with Katzen’s name. If not, then you may still recall her 1972 “Moosewood Cookbook”- one of the best-selling cookbooks of all time – which almost revolutionized the way Americans cook, steering people away from meat and potatoes to a simple yet enjoyable (gasp!) vegetarian-based cuisine. Now Katzen is setting her sights on that most underappreciated of meals – breakfast.

Breakfast, almost literally, has become the forgotten meal for many of us. Space does not permit an in-depth sociological study of the phenomenon, but Katzen is on the money when she notes, “Breakfast is everyone’s favorite meal – yet ironically, relatively few of us seem to make the time to actually prepare or enjoy it.”

While much is frequently made of the importance of families eating together, breakfast seldom seems to be a family activity beyond the television screen – if it happens at all. Many of us skip breakfast altogether or, at best, wolf down a bowl of sugared cereal as we rush to the door, or juggle coffee and a pastry in the car. The pressures of getting kids to the bus and both parents to their jobs – and all those chores entail – do not make for sunlight glinting from crystal tumblers brimming with juice, gingham tablecloths and hollandaise.

But I have a vague and hopeful theory that we have already bottomed out in terms of breakfast consumption and things may be looking up. Through the sheer ubiquity of advice about our diets, more of us are realizing the importance of fortifying ourselves at the start of each day with what Katzen describes as that “small, bright keynote that revives us from sleepiness and fuels us for action.”

Mollie Katzen’s Sunlight Cafe – if it truly existed – is the sort of place you dream of having just around your corner. Of course, this is in a fantasy world where none of us must work, and time never chases us. In such a world, we would be free to linger as we broke our fast, reading the paper and enjoying those rays. Still, with Katzen’s aid, we can create a sliver of this idyll in our own kitchens.

Katzen has made a living by being an understanding friend – full of helpful hints. So she introduces us to the Sunlight Cafe not with a plea to eat breakfast for our physical health – that comes a few pages later – but because it’s a nice thing to do for ourselves. We should make the time for ourselves to do this.

“Literally and repeatedly,” Katzen writes, “breakfast is the first meal of the rest of our lives.”

“The Sunlight Cafe” is an eminently practical book of recipes. Katzen’s foremost goal is to encourage us to take baby steps toward better mornings. If you’re eating poorly, simple additions such as a little fruit on your cereal can make a world of difference with minimal effort. If you’re skipping altogether, eat something.

The Sunlight Cafe helps show the wealth of morning rituals around the world with which people greet the sun. If you’re not into the American-style breakfast, grab a bowl of miso. Or how about Vietnamese Coconut – Rice Flour crepes. If you’re not into solid food at all in the a.m., then supplement that coffee with a Cantaloupe-Peach Smoothie.

The Sunlight Cafe is brimming with every kind of breakfast and brunch item you can imagine. Almost every page contains another hint or reiteration of basic techniques. How to boil and poach eggs is amply covered, as are the basics of cooking whole grains.

And even the most simple of dishes can have dozens of variations. Katzen riffs on Basic Home Fries, throwing out Southwest, Mexican, Indian, Peruvian Blue, and even “Kitchen Sink” versions. We won’t even begin to go into the dozen or so recipes for waffles that she proffers.

“The Sunlight Cafe” is a bright, cheerful, user-friendly volume and indispensable for those who are determined to start their days off right. And even for those who can’t find it in them to make a mess of the kitchen before they go to work, many recipes here would make great dinners or desserts, such as Flash-Cooked Vegetables, or Devine Apple-Pear Crostada.

Katzen has surely given us another winner of a cookbook, and while it may not be destined to become the ubiquitous classic that “Moosewood” became, it is more than worthy to sit alongside it on anyone’s shelf.

Cantaloupe-Peach Smoothie

Serves 1-2

3/4 cup orange juice

1 cup cantaloupe chunks

1 cup sliced peaches

1/2 cup vanilla yogurt

1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2-3 tablespoons pure maple syrup

Combine the orange juice, cantaloupe, peaches, and yogurt in a blender and puree to the desired consistency. Add lemon juice and maple syrup to taste. Serve cold.

Polenta Waffles with Berries

Makes 8 standard waffles or 4 Belgian waffles

13/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/4 cup polenta

1/4 teaspoon salt (rounded measure)

21/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 tablespoon sugar

3 large eggs

11/2 cups milk

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

2 cups berries (any kind)

nonstick spray

butter for the waffle iron

Preheat the waffle iron.

Combine the dry ingredients in a medium-sized bowl.

Break the eggs into a second medium-sized bowl and beat with a whisk until frothy. Drizzle in the milk.

Add the egg-milk mixture to the dry ingredients along with the melted butter and the berries. Mix with decisive strokes from the bottom of the bowl until all the dry ingredients have been moistened. Try not to overmix, and also try to avoid breaking the berries. You’ll break some anyway, but just do your best.

Lightly spray the hot waffle iron on both the top and bottom surfaces with nonstick spray, and rub on a little butter. (This is most easily accomplished by generously buttering a chunk of bread and using it as an edible utensil to butter the waffle iron.) Add just enough batter to cover the cooking surface – approximately 1/2 cup for a standard waffle (1 cup for Belgian waffle).

Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, depending on your waffle iron. Don’t overbake – you want it crisp and brown, but not too dark. It’s OK to peek.

Serve hot with your chosen toppings.

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